Women and children first (saying)

Women and children first (saying)
RMS Titanic survivors aboard a collapsible lifeboat

"Women and children first" is a saying that implies that the lives of women and children are to be saved first if the lives of a group of people are at stake. The saying is most famously associated with the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912.



The practice arose from the chivalrous actions of soldiers during sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1852, though the phrase was not coined until 1860.[1] Although never part of international maritime law, the phrase was popularised by its usage on the RMS Titanic,[2] where, as a consequence of this practice, 74% of the women on board were saved and 52% of the children, but only 20% of the men.[3]

Unfortunately, some officers on the Titanic misinterpreted the order from Captain Smith, and tried to prevent men from boarding the lifeboats.[4][5] It was intended that women and children would board first, with any remaining free spaces for men. Because so few men were saved on the Titanic, the men who did survive were initially branded as cowards, including J. Bruce Ismay.[6]


Some analysts such as Dr Carey Roberts and Dr David Benatar have viewed the policy of "women and children first" (and conscription) as evidence of what Warren Farrell refers to as "male disposability," where preservation of a woman's life is given priority over preservation of a man's life.[7][8] This policy, particularly as applied to incidents like the sinking of the Titanic, resulted in high numbers of widows or orphans who might then face economic and social difficulty.

See also


  1. ^ "Women and Children First". The Phrase Finder. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/women-and-children-first.html. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  2. ^ Logan Marshall (2004). Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters. ISBN 1419147358. http://books.google.com/books?id=UvwNDSWNe7kC. Retrieved 2008-02-27. 
  3. ^ Anesi, Chuck. "Titanic Casualty Figures". http://www.anesi.com/titanic.htm. 
  4. ^ Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember. New York, NY: Bantam, 1997, p. 63 ISBN 978-0-553-27827-9
  5. ^ Ballard, Robert D. The Discovery of the Titanic. Toronto: Madison, 1987, p. 37 ISBN 978-0-446-67174-3
  6. ^ Benedict, Michael Les; Gardner, Ray (2000). "When That Great Ship Went Down". In the face of disaster: true stories of Canadian heroes from the archives of Maclean's. New York, N.Y: Viking. p. 204. ISBN 0-670-88883-4. 
  7. ^ Carey Roberts (April 26, 2006). "Titanic Chivalry". ifeminists.com. http://www.ifeminists.net/introduction/editorials/2006/0426roberts.html. 
  8. ^ Benatar, David (April 1, 2003). "The Second Sexism". AccessMyLibrary. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-105518205/second-sexism-discrimination-against.html. Retrieved April 15, 2010. 

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